When the tobacco industry had to fend off scientific evidence that even second-hand smoke causes health problems for those living in a smoker’s house, lawyer Steve Milloy helped Big Tobacco set up The Advancement of Sound Science Coalition (TASSC). The premise was simple: cast doubt on any science showing their product causes a problem, on the basis that it's not "sound science."
In the decades since, TASSC became Milloy's JunkScience website, and he shifted to defending Big Oil and coal instead of tobacco. But "sound science" has remained a useful industry catchphrase that is often rolled out to cast doubt on the perfectly sound science justifying regulations on dangerous products.
For example, in response to a recent study showing that gas stoves cause just as much asthma in children as second-hand smoke, the methane gas industry used the same "sound science" defense that the tobacco industry used in the 90s when denying the science showing second-hand smoke causes health impacts like asthma.
One of the study’s co-authors told Maxine Joselow at the Washington Post that having a gas stove is like "having car exhaust in a home," and the study itself concludes that the 12.7% of childhood asthma cases in the US that is attributable to gas stove use "is similar to the childhood asthma burden attributed to secondhand smoke exposure."
In response to the study, the American Gas Association's president and Chief Executive Karen Harbert unsurprisingly failed to apologize or promise that the industry would do whatever it can to clean up its products to address this problem. As Joselow reported, "the burden of asthma falls disproportionately on children of color and those in lower-income neighborhoods. Black and Hispanic children are twice as likely as White children to be hospitalized for asthma, while poor households are more likely to have smaller kitchens that lack proper ventilation."
Instead, Harbert told Joselow that the study was "clearly driven by simple advocacy-based modeling and hypotheticals," contrasting it with the "deep and sophisticated analysis we should see in sound science."
There it is!
The fossil fuel industry has faced numerous comparisons to Big Tobacco, seeing as both industries have waged decades-long disinformation campaigns, so you might think that gas executives would go out of their way to avoid using the exact same arguments and catchphrases as the tobacco industry.
However, Harbert went on to complain that the study "did not adequately consider other factors that are known to contribute to asthma," which is yet another tactic straight out of the tobacco playbook- why didn't the study incorporate basically everything else in the known universe?
It is also a totally baseless charge because, as Joselow reported, the basis for this study actually DID control for "other factors that can cause asthma, including exposure to tobacco smoke, pets, mold and water damage." It is hard to think of anything that would make it more obvious that the industry demand for "sound science" has nothing at all to do with the quality of the science itself.
At some point, you'd think the fossil fuel industry would try something that the tobacco industry hasn’t already gotten busted for, but we're still waiting…